Bell Anthology - Looking up PA Ancestors

The Raymond M. Bell Anthology

Looking Up My Pennsylvania Ancestors
      I started early and was fortunate to have parents who were inte-
 rested. They helped and encouraged me. The Bells were of Ulster-
 Scot descent. My father had a chart. So did my mother, who was 
 a Seibert. This traced the line to Wolfersweiler, Saarland. My 
 ancestor's letter of recommendation had been preserved. My son 
 visited the German village. There were still Seiberts living there. 
      I began interviewing and writing to my relatives. I soon became 
 a "pest". I sought Family Bibles, scrap-books, old letters and pic-
 tures. I looked for family stories. A tradition may contain a 
 grain of truth. 
      Then I discovered libraries with histories and genealogies. I 
 was able to get needed books on Interlibrary Loan. I found it 
 necessary to know local history. I could understand my families 
 better. Of great help were the printed Colonial Records and 
 Pennsylvania Archives. Here are tax, land and Revolutionary War 
 records. They have excellent indexes. 
      I then began going to courthouses looking up deeds, wills, 
 estate records and account papers, orphan's court records, civil 
 suits in the Prothonotary's office. Annul tax records were very 
 helpful. A new name or place found in court records opened doors. 
      Of course, it was necessary to visit cemeteries. Today many 
 have been copied. But I found it best to do my own search. Some 
 of my ancestors could not afford to buy gravestone. 
      The 1798 "Window Tax" (Federal Direct Tax) gave me a description 
 of the houses my ancestors lived in - some good - some not so good. 
 The windows in the better houses were listed. 
      I went to Washington DC and spent many hours looking up census 
 and Revolutionary pension records. Today one does not have to go 
 to Washington. I found much useful information. The federal census 
 is taken every 10 years, beginning in 1790. The pension applications 
 were most helpful. Sometimes I found the page from the family Bible. 
      I then went to Harrisburg to look up land records, applications, 
 warrants, surveys, patents. By comparing the surveys with modern 
 aerial maps, I could locate the old family farms. I spent many 
 hours at the Land Office and State Library. If possible, start your 
 library searches at this library. 
      Church records, especially German ones, gave me many names and 
 dates. I used German Reformed, Lutheran and Moravian sources. The 
 Ulster-Scots were always on the move and records are scarce. 
      I wrote to Germany and was able with help to trace my Seiberts 
 to the 1500s. I got a photocopy of the baptismal record of my an-
 cestor who came to Pennsylvania in 1738. He had to "sign in" when 
 he arrived at Philadelphia. The Ulster-Scots who were just going 
 to a British colony did not have to register. I never located 
 where they lived in the Old Country. 
      I consulted all kinds of maps, county atlases, and Warrant maps. 
 I sometimes found what I needed in unexpected places. Today it is 
 quite different with microfilms, indexes and Internet. But the way 
 I did it was fun. When the genealogical bug hits you, you are done 
 for. My three rules are: 
      Fish with a big net. 
      Never give up. 
                                     Raymond Martin Bell 

This article was transcribed by Bonnie Hill in March 1998.

Raymond M. Bell Anthology     Genealogy in Washington Co., PA

Published with permission of Raymond M. Bell.